Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A to Z Challenge: I is for Inciting Incident

Yeah, that's right! TWO I's! There must be some sort of prize for that, right?

You hear the term Inciting Incident a lot in screenplay writing self-help articles. And it's true that the II is highly important to movies and T.V. You have to have something for people to stick around for after the commercial! (of course, not so much in this age of computers... but when I was a kid... yeah)

In writing it's just as important. Wiki Answers has a couple of great definitions for II:

* The conflict that begins the action of the story and causes the protagonist to act 
*Without this event, there would be no story. Also, it is better described as the State of Imperfection made explicit.
The II is what sparks the adventure! Where would Harry Potter be if he had never gotten his letter from Hogwarts? And I don't need to tell you, master storyteller J.K. Rowling didn't make that as simple as walking out to the mailbox, either. The amount of potential energy wrapped up in what it took to get that letter to Harry and for him to find out he was a wizard carried her through 7 novels and 8 movies! Oh to write a scene like that...

The important thing about the II is that it should come along fairly early in your story line. It doesn't necessarily have to be in the first chapter or in the second, although usually SOMETHING inciting should have happened by the end of the second chapter. In HPaTSS, in the second chapter we find the prelude to the II... the incident at the zoo reveals that there really is something highly unusual about Harry, setting us up for the II actual in chapter three.

If you have too much set-up, you risk losing your reader's attention. Pushing your II up to the second or third chapter helps to tighten your plot and get your reader invested in your characters development (or survival: see Hunger Games).

What other examples of IIs can you think of in your favorite books?


  1. I love inciting incidents, but I always have such a hard time placing them. I slap them on the first page, and people say "Slow down." I give it a whole chapter and everyone wants it to go faster. So yeah. I love the II but it appears to be unrequited at the moment.

  2. Rowling had so many of those. The baby on the doorstep is one too. Then the foster parents and the bratty cousin. She has a number of them going before she gets to the letter. But you're right that whole indicent of the letter trying to get in is a great part of the story.

  3. The most exciting II I've read recently is when Katniss hears her sister's name called as a tribute to the Hunger Games.
    Jan at Website
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  4. As an editor working with suspense authors, I find they have to get that double I out pretty quickly. Like the James Bond movies, the credits aren't done and a major world incident has already occurred.
    Ck out Indie writers Bouchard and Romyn they just keep snowballing

  5. Hmm... i am trying to think of other examples. Thanks for getting my brain working!


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